California Governor Gavin Newsom, Despite Pledge, Signed 1,709 Oil and Gas Production Permits

This story is published jointly with Capital & Main

California Governor Gavin Newsom photographed wearing a mask on June 3, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Getty / Genaro Molina

Of all of the Joe Biden government’s Executive Orderson Climes signed on Wednesday, supporters in California have committed to one thing: a promise to stop selling new oil and gas leases on public land and offshore and to review existing leases.

Some of them hope the move could lead to similar action by the government of California Governor Gavin Newsom, which has so far approved more than 8,000 state oil and gas permits.

The president’s order, which instructs the Home Secretary to take a break from signing leases, will not in itself have a major impact on California’s oil and gas exploration. State production accounts for less than 10 percent of all wells in the state. In December, the Trump administration sold leases for seven parcels totaling 4,133 acres, all in Kern County. It was the first federal lease sale in California in eight years.

However, the Trump administration had previously announced that the Bureau of Land Management could make lease sales for 1.2 million acres of land in California, including 400,000 acres of public land, prompting Reps James Panetta, Julia Brownley and Salud Carbajal, all Democrats with California’s congressional counties to reintroduce laws that support a ban on oil and gas operations on public properties.

Proponents also hope to use the executive order to halt oil and gas production in countries where the Trump administration has already sold leases.

“None of the companies [that hold leases from the December sale] have begun exploration drilling and we believe the combination of the pause and the announced review process will help us push for these leases to be discontinued, “said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program.

According to Manuel, state-wide climate groups intend to file lawsuits to prevent the development of states that have been leased to oil and gas companies by the Trump administration.

“We are looking for the best state of how we can legally challenge these rental contracts,” said Manuel. One possible legal argument is that the development of the wells “would contradict the climate targets set by the Biden government”.

Most of the state oil and gas leasing battle, however, is taking place on state land, where 90 percent of oil and gas deals take place.

extractionOil pipelines and drilling equipment at an ERG facility are located near Santa Maria, California, in the hills east of Santa Maria on April 6, 2018.
George Rose / Getty Images

Governor Newsom projected the image of a climate advocate and in October promised the state would ban all hydrofracturing by 2024. At the same time, according to the FracTracker Alliance, his government issued 1,709 new permits for the production of oil and gas wells in 2020 – a 116.6 percent more than in the previous year.

Climate and environmental justice advocates hope President Biden’s engagement will push state officials to stop oil and gas exploration.

“Newsom has the power to stop new well approvals under state law,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “He could set up a health buffer zone [a physical space between oil and gas operations and human environments such as a residential neighborhood]. Political pressure on him will only increase to take similarly determined action. “

Siegel added that the Center for Biodiversity is suing the Newsom administration for allegedly illegal permits that have not properly assessed their environmental impact.

Buffer zones, also known as kickbacks, are a recurring demand among environmental justice advocates in California, based on studies suggesting that living near oil and gas operations is harmful to human health.

A bill that would have stipulated a half-mile setback between Brunnen and frontline communities stalled in the Senate last year. The oil and gas industry spent more than $ 35 million lobbying lawmakers in 2019 and 2020, much of it to fuel the law through setbacks. The California Independent Petroleum Association, which spent $ 1.35 million on lobbying last year, said killing the bill was their top legislative priority.

Lisa Lien-Mager, assistant communications secretary for the California agency for natural resources, told Capital & Main in an email that the Newsom administration had welcomed President Biden’s break in developing fossil fuel for states, but did not say whether the governor doing so would take similar action for state lands.

In September, Newsom signed an ordinance directing the California Air Resources Board to develop regulations to end gasoline and diesel-powered automobiles in the state by 2035. This change in guidelines appeared to be repeated in Biden’s Executive Orders, which contained guidelines for federal agencies to procure zero-emission vehicles and “CO2-free electricity”.

And on Jan. 28, General Motors announced it would stop selling most gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2035, indicating that this consumer-side solution to greenhouse gas emissions has caught on in the private sector.

For Los Angeles-based environmental justice attorney Martha Argüello, however, these methods are insufficient to mitigate the effects of toxic oil and gas production that is currently harming black and Latin American communities in particular.

Argüello, co-chair of the STAND-LA coalition and executive director of Doctors for Social Responsibility in Los Angeles, has campaigned for setbacks in the city for years and was part of a successful campaign that convinced the city to create a climate emergency mobilization department . To them, Biden’s Executive Order seemed to be inspired by environmental justice groups. Specifically, she noted the provision directing federal agencies to create “environmental justice scorecards” for tracking and investing in heavily polluted communities.

“These ideas of justice come from the administration before we have even addressed them,” said Argüello. “It feels different. That’s not what the state of California does – they don’t listen to communities for environmental justice.”

She described Biden’s federal action as the “bare minimum” necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

“We want [the Newsom administration] Stopping fossil fuel permits and existing oil and gas wells causing setbacks. That has been our demand for a long time. “

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